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Why did General McChrystal Wound the King?

mind map of McChrystal wounding the king by Franke James, MFA.;
By Franke James

Trapped by vindictive gossip

The simmering tension between the White House and General McChrystal came to a head thanks to an article in Rolling Stone, The Runaway General.

The subtitle summed up the conflict:

“Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

But the “wimps in the White House” did not respond kindly to the derisive comments from General McChrystal, and “Team America.” McChrystal’s fate was pronounced swiftly. President Obama accepted the General’s resignation and appointed his boss, General Petraeus in his place.

Was it an accidental slip of the tongue?

How could McChrystal, a brilliant military mind, whose daily regime is to sleep 4 hours, run 7km, and eat only one meal, get trapped by vindictive gossip? What was he thinking? Yesterday I tweeted about the developing story…

tweet - Office-Politics #101: Do Not Badmouth Boss to Reporters (esp Rolling Stone): McChrystal Is Summoned to Washington

A few hours later, a news anchor from 750/KXL in Portland, Oregon emailed me requesting a radio interview…

“I am hoping someone with Office Politics can help me with a story. I would like to localize the Gen. Stanley McChrystal firestorm over his comments in Rolling Stone. Let’s say an average Joe gets caught badmouthing the boss (either publicly or privately), what should he or she do? What lessons can we take from this gaffe and apply to our workplace?” Colby Reade, News Anchor

Certainly casual banter and gossip has sunk many careers – McChrystal is the latest example but he won’t be the last. So, what can you learn from this? And what should you do if you get caught “dissing” the Boss? Colby’s questions inspired me to write some pointers down

Office-Politics #101:

What NOT to Do to Get Ahead at Work

#1. Do NOT wound the King, unless you’re going to kill him.

By criticizing Obama publicly in print (and online) General McChrystal “wounded the King.” The old saying is, “if you’re going to attack, kill him, or don’t go after him.” Because the King, who is merely injured, will punish the attacker.

Clearly by lashing out in the media, McChrystal didn’t eliminate the King (Obama) – he merely made him angry. McChrystal’s insolence could not be tolerated. Not just because it was personally insulting, but because it revealed a divided team. A dangerous liability when lives are at stake.

So, if you’re spewing venom about the King (your boss), think carefully about the consequences. Are you going to kill the boss? Or simply injure him? What will he or she do in response?

#2. Do NOT badmouth. It feels good but….

It limits your opportunities.

It alerts everyone to your dislike of that person and puts up big barriers – not just between you and your “enemy” but with coworkers, too. If everyone knows you don’t like “Sam” they may go out of their way to smooth things over, and protect you from any activities (meetings, office parties, business trips) where you two are going to encounter each other. That might not sound too bad, until you realize you are being passed over for promotions and projects just because you might have to work with that individual.

It’s best to keep your “judgments” to yourself (who appointed you judge of the world, anyway??). It will give you more room to move and grow in the company. And it also gives you the freedom to change your mind about that person in the future. A very valuable option.

#3. Do NOT sacrifice your values. Take the emergency exit.

If you don’t respect your boss because you have fundamental differences, the best option may be to exit the company. A divided team cannot work in unison. Look for a team that reflects your true values.

#4. Do NOT be afraid to say you’re sorry. Groveling may help you keep your job.

Everyone makes mistakes. If you slip up and badmouth the boss, the best thing to do is to apologize. If your gaffe was public, then you should make your apology public as well.

#5. Do NOT feel sorry for yourself. Nobody likes whiners.

Zip your lips and think of the sorry fate of General McChrystal.

#6. Do NOT accept interviews with Rolling Stone Magazine.

The media is not your friend. You would think that a savvy General like McChrystal would know that. What was he thinking accepting an interview with Rolling Stone??

It doesn’t make sense…

Unless, he was just playing a high stakes game.

My way, or the highway. Writing by Franke James, MFA.;

Maybe he didn’t think that the Afghan war was worth sticking around for and he was just looking for the quickest exit possible.

Perhaps he thought the wimps in the White House would not fire him — and he would gain power with U.S. troops, esteem with power-brokers in Afghanistan, and the adulation of the American public.

So the last tip on getting ahead is this….

#7. Do NOT underestimate your adversary.

And always have your resume ready.

Office-Politics #101: What NOT to Do to Get Ahead at Work

#1. Do NOT wound the King, unless you’re going to kill him.
#2. Do NOT badmouth. It feels good but….
#3. Do NOT sacrifice your values. Take the emergency exit.
#4. Do NOT be afraid to say you’re sorry. Groveling may help you keep your job.
#5. Do NOT feel sorry for yourself. Nobody likes whiners.
#6. Do NOT accept interviews with Rolling Stone Magazine.
#7. Do NOT underestimate your adversary.

And always have your resume ready.


Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone on the Story that Brought Down Gen. McChrystal and Exposed Widening Disputes Behind the U.S. Debacle in Afghanistan

In a rare extended interview, DemocracyNow speaks to Michael Hastings, whose article in Rolling Stone magazine led to the firing of General Stanley McChrystal.

“Hastings’ piece quoted McChrystal and his aides making disparaging remarks about top administration officials, and exposed long-standing disagreements between civilian and military officials over the conduct of the war. The Senate confirmed General David Petraues as McChrystal’s replacement on Wednesday, one day after McChrystal announced his retirement from the military on Tuesday after a 34-year career.”


Dear Office-Politics, the game everyone playsFranke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of the award-winning game book, Dear Office-Politics: the game everyone plays. It’s the dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. In 2010, it won an AXIOM Business Book Award for HR and Training. Franke will accept the award in May, at BookExpo America in New York City.

In April 2010, Foreword Magazine reviewed Dear Office-Politics, “The dilemmas vary in seriousness, but all involve power plays as the universal theme… James’s splashy sense of humor and style catapults this book from the field of humdrum human resources exercises to an entertaining discussion of the pantheon of office types. And the game is attractively illustrated with zany color photographs and illustrations on every page of these office types. The “office crab” that is the grimacing head of a woman on the body of a crab; the luridly colored photo of a woman with a chef’s knife behind her that is emblazoned, “I have had firsthand experience with a backstabber”; and the cover of a suited woman in a shark tank are bound to attract the attention of congenial co-workers looking for an icebreaker. Winner of the Axiom Business Book Award for 2010, Dear Office-Politics is recommended for team-building meetings, as well as for pleasure reading.”

  1. 3 Answers to “Why did General McChrystal Wound the King?”

  2. So many lessons to learn, and only one life’s worth of careers to learn them in… #2 is the most difficult for me (and I suspect the average worker).

    Once the deed has been done, how do you effectively backtrack from the badmouthing?

    By skylark on Jun 24, 2010

  3. Skylark,

    Two parts to my answer.

    #1. I think many people would agree that not gossiping is hard… but gossip is backstabbing — with words. Next time someone tells you some gossip, try these mind tricks to shift your thinking:

    i. Imagine if they said the same thing about you. How would you feel?
    ii. What is that person’s motivation in spreading gossip?
    iii. Can you really trust a backstabber?

    Once you’ve seen another person as a gossip, flip it around. Ask yourself if that’s the kind of person you want to be.

    #2. In answer to your question about backtracking from badmouthing — the magic words “sorry” go a long way. Couple them with genuine respect and helpfulness and you may find that you’re forgiven.

    We have more articles on the site about gossiping.

    Good luck!

    Franke James
    Editor and Founder
    Author, Dear Office-Politics

    By Franke James on Jun 24, 2010

  4. And yet gossip is part and parcel of how people communicate in organisations, so the question is more about intention and content.

    For example, a few years ago David Panter, arguably the most successful CEO in recent memory of our City Council in Brighton & Hove (UK), instructed his staff to engage in ‘responsible gossip’. What he meant by this was that in large complex organisations, it was both impossible to keep track of everything that was going on or indeed communicate what was necessary without making use of the more informal setting of the water cooler or corridor conversation. In other words, informal conversations are essential to communication, and a naturally occurring phenomenon, so how do we best make use of them?

    To me this makes absolute sense. We are social beings and informal networks are the exoskeleton of human systems, so maybe we need to both use gossip as a lens through which to peer into the shadow side of ourselves and the organisation, and consciously use it for positive reasons…..

    By Steve Hearsum on Jun 25, 2010

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